NATIONAL BLOOD WEEK: NHS encourages blood donors to come forward


As National Blood Week (19-25 June 2017) reaches its end, the U.K National Health Service is encouraging people to come forward and donate blood to help those who need it most, with an online strategy covering websites and social media such as Facebook, HEM News Agency exclusively reports.

The NHS Blood and Transplant division launched National Blood Week with a campaign to get more people visiting their local blood donation centre with a series of advertisements and even a hashtag #ImThere. The campaign was set up to celebrating new and existing blood donors making a difference and helping save people’s lives, according to the NHSBT website.



Blood donors are being encouraged to proudly announce they have donated via social media to help overcome the reluctance of other members of the public to donate and to solve shortages of certain blood groups, particularly those associated with ethnic minorities.

The NHSBT is particularly keen to get on board more donors of black African and Afro-Caribbean heritage, who are currently vastly underrepresented in the blood donation pool. An appeal was launched to increase the number of black British donors by 40,000, to help fight the effects of sickle cell anaemia among the African and Afro-Caribbean communities. The agency has received support from television presenter Scarlette Douglas, whose brother was a blood transfusion recipient. She spoke with sickle cell sufferer Aaron Thomas on the BBC One Show about the condition and the need for more donors from this community.

Donors are being encouraged to add frames to their Facebook profile photos and special ‘Twibbons’ to their Twitter pages. They can also take a selfie at the blood donation centre and use the #ImThere tag, to get their friends and family to join in and donate too.

NHSBT is also keen to reach out to more people with blood group O- as stocks of this blood type are running very low. The agency runs twenty three permanent centres and visits thousands of venues across England.


NHS Blood Donation, Facebook, Facebook Inc.

“Give blood” – NHS Blood and Transplant

“National Blood Week 2017” – NHS Blood and Transplant

TOP DOCS: GP surgery in Forest Gate rated ‘outstanding’


VIJAY SHAH and PHOEBE COOKE via Newham Recorder

A doctor’s surgery located in the Newham, east London district of Forest Gate has been rated ‘outstanding’ despite having a caseload of 13,000 patients and at a time when the National Health Service (NHS) is under strain from government cutbacks and pressure on services, local newspaper the Newham Recorder reported yesterday.

The Woodgrange Medical Practice, located on Woodgrange Road in the north of Forest Gate, was recently rated ‘outstanding’ in an inspection report issued by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), an independent regulator of health and social care services in England. Staff at the practice were overjoyed to receive the Commission’s rating, which they ascribed to a ‘team effort’.


Woodgrange was particularly commended for its ‘clear vision and leadership’, and CQC inspectors were impressed by its high levels of positive patient feedback and its work with residents with diabetes, asthma and mental health conditions – as well as its use of ‘innovative and proactive methods’ to improve patient outcomes. The surgery, located near Forest Gate rail station, was also lauded for its efficiency and excellence in staff leadership, and also received a secondary ‘good’ rating from the CQC for its record on safety, care and response to patients’ needs.

One of the senior general practitioners (doctors) at Woodgrange Medical Practice, Dr. Muhammad Naqvi, said “I think we are really responsive to the patients’ needs,

“We are working in a difficult climate from a financial perspective but also from the demand – in a borough like Newham the population always in flux.

“We have got a great team and the practice is really well led, we are very conscientious and try to leave no stone unturned.”

Naqvi’s partner GP, Dr. Yusuf Patel added It’s a wonderful acknowledgment and it’s good for Newham,

“This shows a lot of the hard work and team-work that our staff have put in. We just wanted to do our best and show what work our team can do – this is a fantastic surprise.”

The CQC inspection visit in May 2016, also gave special praise to the practice nurse Noreen Gilhespy, whose work at the surgery was also described as outstanding. Gilhespy runs some community group geared towards Forest Gaters’ general health, social interaction and exercise routines.

The surgery currently has 13,000 people on its books, a massive increase from the 1,300 it began with when it opened in 1993. It has been rated four out of five on the NHS Choices patient website.

Newham Recorder, Facebook, Facebook Inc.
“Forest Gate GP practice with 13,000 patients rated ‘outstanding’” – Phoebe Cooke, Newham Recorder – News/Archant Community Media Ltd (3 February 2017)
“Child at Doctor – Kid at Doctor’s Office” – Wellness GM, Flickr (23 January 2015)

VALUABLE SMOKE: Artist helps China turn smog into diamonds

Beijing, CHINA
VIJAY SHAH via World Economic Forum

Smog is probably one of the most useless… and dangerous things known to humanity. The thick all-enveloping clouds of chemical particulates, water vapour, smoke and other atmospheric ingredients kills thousands of people globally per year, causes disruption to traffic and the economy and is an inescapable hazard to sufferers of breathing problems such as asthma. But now, in the notoriously polluted cities of China, they are not only fighting back, but are making a tidy profit from it too.

China has some of the most polluted aerial environments on earth. With a 1 billion-plus population and rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, as well as a determined quest to become a major world superpower, the country’s citizens pay the price for China’s great march to prosperity, enduring extremely high smog levels owing to the proliferation of factories, industrial units and slash-and-burn farming creating smoke which blows in from the countryside. In some large cities, including the capital Beijing, smog occurs almost on a daily basis, and is particularly evident in the summer months. One nationwide smog incident in late 2015 sparked red alerts and health warnings in ten cities, and the dirty air is thick enough to reach California, thousands of miles away in the Pacific.


However an artist from the Netherlands has proposed a novel solution that could not only rid cities in China, and in other rapidly developing nations, of their peasoupers, but also provide a boost to the diamond industry, turning a killer into a sparkler.

Dutch national Daan Roosegaarde is the in-charge of the Smog Free Project. The premise of the project is simple. First erect a seven metre tall tower which looks like it was made from window blinds and resembles a portly windmill. The tower draws in the polluted air and purifies it. As it does so, the carbon from the smog is extracted and compressed into carbon, the building blocks for organic life and the core ingredient of diamonds. The tower transforms the carbon dust into valuable gems, in a process that takes just thirty minutes. Beijing’s smog alone is 32 per cent carbon particulates, which will mean a lot of gems. The towers are, not surprisingly considering the background of their designer, influenced by Dutch architectural styles, and are intended to not look too obtrusive or space-consuming, a form of functional urban sculpture.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions, Roosegaarde told the assembled delegates and press: “It started with a dream,”

“The dream of clean air for everyone.”

The idea for the Smog Free Project first formed in Roosegaarde’s imagination when he was observing Beijing’s notorious smog from a hotel window.

“On Saturday, I could see the world around me, the cars, the trees, the people. But on Wednesday it was completely covered in smog, with pollution, and that image made me a little bit sad.”

Determined to free people from being forced to stay inside during smoggy days and to give them freedom to breathe safe air, he began planning the project.

Tests done in Beijing have shown the technology does work. Areas where the towers were tested were found to have air 70 to 75 per cent cleaner than places which did not have them. The success of the tests was picked up on by Beijing’s city government who have decided to endorse the artist’s project. Roosegaarde will now tour other cities in China to display the virtues and benefits of the towers.

The diamonds produced by the Smog Free Project will be used in jewellery making and the profits made ploughed back into the project, particularly in funding the construction of more towers.

World Economic Forum, Facebook, Facebook Inc.
“Why turning China’s smog into diamonds isn’t as crazy as it sounds” – Rachel Hallett, World Economic Forum – Industry Agenda (27 June 2016)
Rosa Ortiz.

INDIA ENCEPHALITIS OUTBREAK: 11 children dead, 15 hospitalised

VIJAY SHAH via Ace Worldwide News and Times of India


Bihar, the state in India where majority of Bi...
Bihar, the state in India where majority of Bihari People live (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Eleven children have died from an outbreak of the brain disease acute encephalitis syndrome and 15 others have been admitted to hospital in India, the Times of India reports via the Ace Worldwide News Group network of blogs has reported today.

The outbreak occurred in the town of Gaya in Bihar state, which lies around 100 kilometres from the state capital Patna.

Acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) is a severe inflammation of the brain caused by a variety of pathogens including viruses, bacteria, fungi and brain-dwelling parasites. In adults, AES can cause fever, headaches, confusion, and occassionally, seizures. In children, the most reported symptoms are irritability, poor appetite and drowsiness.

It is not yet known which pathogen is responsible for today’s outbreak.

In June 2014, a similar AES incident in the city of Muzaffarpur, also in Bihar, claimed the lives of 30 people, including several children, which was blamed on poor environmental hygiene and lack of ‘proper food’, according to the Times of India.

Vijay Shah { विजय }, Twitter, Twitter Inc.
#AceBreakingNews, Twitter, Twitter Inc.
“#Breaking144 – 11 children die, 15 patients admitted to hospital over Acute Encephalitis Syndrome in Gaya, India – @timesofindia – @AceBreakingNews” – Ace Worldwide News Group (9 July 2016)
Times of India, Twitter, Twitter Inc.
“No let-up in acute encephalitis syndrome, four more kids die” – Priti Nath Jha, The Times of India – City/Times Group (8 June 2014)
“File:India Bihar locator map.svg” – Planemad, Wikimedia Commons (29 December 2008)

WORLD SICKLE CELL AWARENESS DAY: Nigerian charity starts up awareness drive


On the occasion of World Sickle Cell Awareness Day to be held this month and an event organised by the United Nations, a charity in Nigeria will pull out all the stops to get people understanding the condition, which often affects people of African origin and causes deformities in red blood cells.

According to online magazine, the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation (SCAF) has organised a series of events on World Sickle Cell Awareness Day, which will happen on June 19th. SCAF will run a number of drives to encourage greater awareness, offer practical solutions for dealing with the condition and encourage more support for research into Sickle Cell. The events will take place in five states in Nigeria. These are Abuja, Lagos, Delta, Niger and Kaduna. The SCAF will also push forward social media campaigns to bring awareness all over Nigeria and the world.

Live events SCAF will plan include a set of conferences on sickle cell mapping and management of the disorder in tandem with the United States Embassy, press conferences to support the SCAF project, visits to hospitals, a nutrition forum in collaboration with the Zankli Hospital, free genotype testing and free medicines to be given out to people suffering from sickle cell disorder.

(c) SCAF via

The SCAF’s social media campaign, dubbed #OneWord, encourages people to tweet or Facebook post their understanding of what sickle cell is and to encourage their friends to join in to help get more people discussing the condition, which affects 150,000 children in Nigeria per year. It is believed that 40 million Nigerians carry the gene that causes sickle cell, while not affected by it themselves, according to the Sickle Cell Foundation.

Sickle cell disorder, also known in the West as sickle cell disease is a genetically inherited condition and a form of anaemia where the red blood cells are deformed and curved, in the manner of a sickle. This causes the cells’ oxygen carrying capacity to be impaired. These blood cells do not last as long as healthy blood cells and can get stuck in blood vessels, raising the risk of stroke. The condition cannot be cured, but special drugs are available to manage the condition.

Sickle cell disease mainly affects people of African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Eastern Mediterranean and Asian origin.


Know Your Genotype Campaign (KYG)
Free genotype testing, Genetic Counselling and Awareness
Date: Monday, June 13th 2016
Time: 10AM
Venue: Garki Market, Abuja

Tweet Conference
Join the conversation on twitter using the hash tag #SickleCellDay2016 and tweeting @SCAF_Nigeria
 Wednesday, June 15th & Thursday, June 16th 2016

Time: 12PM -6PM

Sickle Cell Awareness Forum
Sickle Cell Nutrition and Management, packs of required drugs will be given to Sickle Cell Warriors free of charge. Key Note Speaker fro the day Dr. J.O. Lawson
Date: Thursday, June 16th 2016
Time: 2-5 PM
Venue: Zankli Medical Centre, Plot 1021, B5 Shehu Yaradua Way, Ministry of Works, Utako District, Abuja.

Hospital Visitation
Visiting Sickle Cell Warriors and their care givers – Packs of required drugs will be given to Sickle Cell Warriors free of charge
Date: Friday, June 17th 2016
Time: 10AM
Venue: Asokoro General Hospital

Conference on Sickle Cell Disease
In Partnership with the United States Embassy – Indigenous Mapping on Sickle Cell Disorder for Targeted Advocacy, Policy Making and Practical Action.
Date: Monday, June 20th 2016
Time: 10AM – 1PM
Venue: United States Embassy, Abuja
Vijay Shah { विजय }, Twitter, Twitter Inc.
Gist Nigeria, Twitter, Twitter Inc.
“Sickle cell disease” – NHS Choices/ Health Service

GLUTEN-FREE DIETS: Gluten Free Centre launches new mobile app for foodies

For people who have gluten intolerances or wish to have gluten-free diets, finding the right foods when out and about can be a minefield. With many restaurants and hotels not even aware of the existence of these intolerances and gluten-free diets, diners and travellers avoiding gluten can find themselves in awkward situations. However a new mobile phone app from the Gluten Free Centre promises to change all that.

The Gluten Free Centre – the United Kingdom’s most comprehensive online directory and community hub of for all things gluten free – has launched a new app that will help those living a gluten-free life find hotels, restaurants and stores that cater to them and stock food products without gluten. To promote all kinds of businesses supplying the gluten-free market, the GFC app will feature independent shops and hotels as well as big chains.

The app is designed to help anyone live a gluten-free life and locate their nearest businesses that can cater for their needs. Completely free of charge, the app will be launched officially at the The Gluten Free Centre’s corporate stand at The Allergy and Free From Show at Olympia, London from Friday July 3 to Sunday July 5, 2015. The app will be launched by GFC founders Diana and David Murphy.

(c) The Gluten Free Centre via


Of the app, Diana said “We’re very proud of the new Gluten Free Centre app which will help our fast growing gluten free audience to access important information on the go.

“Users can choose from thousands of gluten-free friendly places to eat out, stay, shop or get a take away.

“What makes our app different is we include small, independent restaurants and hotels alongside the most popular chains.

“We’re selective about the places we add to our database – only the ones offering real choice, quality and understanding of gluten-free food are included.”

Based in the small town of Brinkworth, in the English county of Wiltshire, the Murphys launched the GFC in October 2014, based on their vision of creating a comprehensive and useful resource for people on gluten-free diets to find shops, eateries and businesses that place a high emphasis on their needs and requirements, as well as a supportive online community for everyone living gluten free in the UK.

The GFC’s website, along with its highly-acclaimed directory, the first of its kind in the British Isles, also offers fun gluten-free recipes, a blog and details on gluten-free events and competitions. The site aims to provide a wealth of information for for those with coeliac disease, wheat allergy, gluten intolerance and for people eating a gluten free diet for other health reasons such as Crohn’s Disease, MS, IBS or ASD – in addition to those who choose a gluten free diet as part of a healthy lifestyle. They also aim to bring together businesses, consumers, gluten-free organisations, experts and bloggers into a supportive and informative community, while also raising awareness of coeliac diseases and other intolerances affected by gluten, which is often found in wheat-based products such as bread and breakfast cereals.

The GFC community now stretches to 22,000 members and fans on Facebook alone. Its website receives 10,000 visitors per month and its free e-magazine reaches the inboxes of 6,000 readers across the UK. According to its website, the Gluten Free Centre has been featured in numerous glossy and women’s magazines and several regional newspapers and is a recipient of the SBS (Small Business Sunday) Award for new entrepreneurs by the BBC’s Dragon’s Den judge Theo Paphitis.

About 1 per cent of the UK’s population suffers from coeliac disease in particular, according to statistics from the Kantar Worldpanel, but increasing numbers of people are cutting gluten out of their diets for health reasons. Kantar claims that in 2013, 49% of gluten free customers were new to the category. Currently 55 per cent of the British gluten-free market is made up of people opting out of gluten for health reasons.

The app is available to download from the Google Play store (for Android devices – ) and from the iTunes App Store.

“Award winning online directory for gluten free living launches its first mobile app!” [Press Release] – Media Ltd (24 June 2015)
“The Gluten Free Centre” – The Gluten Free Centre/The Gluten Free Centre Ltd
“UK FREEFROM MARKET” – Incredible Bakery Company/incredibleshop
“Award winning online directory for gluten free living launches its first mobile app!” [Press Release] – Media Ltd (24 June 2015)
Getty Images via Zemanta.


NEWHAM COUNCIL: Campaign launched to support safety equipment in Newham’s workplaces

Newham Council, which governs the east London borough of Newham, has offered its support to a citywide campaign to remind businesses and employers generally of the importance of installing life-saving equipment in their premises, the Council’s official publication The Newham Mag has reported.

The Shockingly Easy campaign, organised by the London Ambulance Service, is encouraging companies to place a defibrillator in offices and warehouses. This electronic device can mean the difference between life and death in the event of a company employee or visitor suffering cardiac arrest (heart attack). The machine comes with two pads which are applied to the chest when a cardiac incident occurs, and uses electricity to shock the heart into restarting and pumping blood normally again.

A representative of Newham Council, Cllr. Clive Furness, who is the council’s mayoral advisor for adults and health, helped launch the safety drive’s activities in Newham at a special ceremony in Stratford Shopping Centre. He said to The Newham Mag I urge every business to get a defibrillator. It is vital that these life-saving machines are within easy reach of anyone who suffers a cardiac arrest. It could save their life.” The event demonstrated how to use the equipment, including purchase and installation, as well as staff training in their use. The event also offered opportunities for businesses to get their equipment safety accredited with the Ambulance Service and dispelled many myths currently surrounding defibrillators.

Deutsch: Defibrillator im Rettungsdienst
Deutsch: Defibrillator im Rettungsdienst (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The council have already come on board with the Shockingly Easy campaign themselves by having defibrillation equipment put into place at their main offices at Newham Dockside, near Canning Town in the south of the borough, and councillors are hoping that this will set an example for other private and government organisations to follow suit.

The Stratford event saw ambulance crews with a retinue of resuscitation dummies and defibrillators take over the public plaza inside the shopping centre to show local businesses and shoppers how to use the equipment and save a colleague’s life in as little as five minutes. The London Ambulance Service’s chairman, Richard Hunt CBE, said: “Our latest data shows that there were 304 out of hospital cardiac arrests in Newham in a year and 43 of these occurred in the street and locations like workplaces, gyms, shops, public transport and places of worship.

When you have a cardiac arrest your heart stops, blood is no longer being pumped around the body and you are clinically dead.

It’s crucial that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR – chest compressions and rescue breaths) and defibrillation is given to the patient in the first three to four minutes.”

That event took place on the Wednesday 22nd October, but the quest to get more businesses installing this vital piece of kit on their premises is gathering pace with a similar phase of campaigning gaining the support of the council for Bromley borough, which lies south of the river Thames and Newham.

The London Ambulance Service, an emergency service organisation under the umbrella of the National Health Service, is responsible for running most of the ambulances and emergency vehicles that serve the capital’s hospitals and save thousands of lives every year. Their campaign aims to get a thousand defibrillators fitted at shops, businesses and gyms across London. The service states that only 28% of people who suffer a cardiac arrest at a public place survive without immediate medical intervention, but using a defibrillator means that the survival rate can jump to 80%. The service gives figures that around 10,000 cardiac arrests occur every year in the whole of London, a rate of 27 a day.

A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood around the body, and can be a result of heart attack, choking or trauma.

A cardiac arrest is different to a heart attack which happens when an artery becomes obstructed, restricting the flow of blood to the heart. The most common sign of a heart attack is chest pain, though there are other symptoms. If left untreated it can lead to a cardiac arrest, which is when the heart stops beating.

“Shockingly easy way to save life” – The Newham Mag [Issue 305], Newham Council (5 December 2014)
“Shockingly Easy campaign” – London Ambulance Service NHS Trust/NHS
“Defibrillators for Newham businesses” – London Ambulance Service NHS Trust/NHS (17 October 2014)
“File:Biphasischer Defibrillator.jpg” – Jack99, Wikimedia Commons (10 June 2006)

JUST A GLASS OF WATER: Time to reflect!!

By Vijay Shah

Every once in a while, I get forwarded email on my Google Mail account from a good friend who used to live at my houseshare. They always make light-hearted reading, amusing and sometimes shocking. Today I would like to share one such email with my Brainiacs, which I received almost a couple of days ago.

(c) via Aim 4 Life.

This message was about how life can be stressful and difficult, but that you should not let challenging situations make those precious days of your life too unbearable. There is a way to handle stress, and to detoxify the mind and body, by taking each of your burdens and putting them in a ‘box’ so that not only you can deal with them piece-by-piece but also giving you the means to regain control of your destiny.

Above all, and this is something I should be saying to myself more often, do not let stress and worries dominate your life and existence. Be grateful for and never forget the good things and occasions that have happened in your life and will always continue to happen. As for the bad things, be strong, steely and clear-minded in your approach to them. Do not let a bad situation, worry or negative individual get you down. The best kind of strength does not come from muscles and six-packs, nor from faddy diets, but the one that lies within – internally – deep within your psyche.

“A young lady confidently walked around the room while leading and explaining stress management to an audience; with a raised glass of water, and everyone knew she was going to ask the ultimate question, ‘half empty or half full?’….. She fooled them all… “How heavy is this glass of water?” she inquired with a smile. Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. To 20 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. In each case it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “and that’s the way it is with stress. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on.”

“As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we’re refreshed, we can carry on with the burden – holding stress longer and better each time practiced. So, as early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don’t carry them through the evening and into the night… Pick them up tomorrow. Whatever burdens you’re carrying now, let them down for a moment. Relax, pick them up later after you’ve rested. Life is short. Enjoy it and the now ‘supposed’ stress that you’ve conquered!”

(c) JupiterCity

Here are some extra tips that came appended to the above. A list of 20 nuggets to help you live a better life, and a dash of common sense too….

1 * Accept the fact that some days you’re the pigeon, and some days you’re the statue!
2 * Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.
3 * Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.
4 * Drive carefully… It’s not only cars that can be recalled by their Maker.
5 * If you can’t be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.
6 * If you lend someone £20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it..
7 * It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.
8 * Never buy a car you can’t push.
9 * Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time, because then you won’t have a leg to stand on.
10 * Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance.
11 * Since it’s the early worm that gets eaten by the bird, sleep late.
12 * The second mouse gets the cheese.
13 * When everything’s coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.
14 * Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.
15 * You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world to one person.
16 * Some mistakes are too much fun to make only once.
17 * We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull. Some have weird names and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box.
18 * A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.
19 * Have an awesome day and know that someone has thought about you today.
20 * It was I, your friend!

(c) via


“Dealing with people stress-4 types of stress part 4” – Julie Warburton, Aim 4 Life LINK

“Silent Sunday: Glass of Water” – JupiterCity LINK

Gallery Crazefree LINK

RETHINK: Re-addressing mental illness

Metro paper ad Rethink
(c) V. Shah/HEM Blog / Metro

By Vijay Shah


My blog sports a very unusual name (although perhaps not so unusual as blog names go). The name “Half-Eaten Mind” is uncharacteristic, a mind half-devoured by life and filled up with information. Useless and useful. In real life my blog name is derived from the expression “to eat someone’s mind” – which means to annoy or frustrate a person enough to make their head hurt.

 The brain is the most essential organ in the human body. This wrinkly clump of neurons and cells is the body’s control centre, which all other vital organs are wholly dependent on. Its duties include maintaining the heart’s beating rhythm, ensuring blood is kept continuously circulating around the body. It controls the senses, which enables me to see the words flash up on the Microsoft Word document as it moves my fingers across the laptop keyboard, and to feel the breeze of my desk fan as it hits the sensitive hairs on the back of my neck. The brain creates your emotional state, even releasing chemicals that can lift or dampen your mood. It is our brains that have enabled us to be on the summit of the animal kingdom through at least intelligence and creativity alone.

 But brains also have to bear a lot of strain, and sometimes for various reasons, things can go wrong. Mental illness is an issue that is often poorly understood by ordinary people, yet it is one of the most significant that society and especially sufferers have to deal with, often for a lifetime. According to the UK charity Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 4 people (25% of the population) have or will experience some form of mental illness, disorder or condition. About 10% of children will also experience mental illness during their formative years. Mental illness is an umbrella term covering everything from extreme stress and depression, through to paranoid schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. Mainstream thought also classifies conditions such as those in the autistic spectrum and Down’s syndrome in this health category, although increasingly mental health activists and families of people with these conditions want them recognised as simply different forms of mental health rather than negative ‘diseases’.

 Mental illness not only impacts sufferers and their loved ones, but all of society. Britain’s suicide rate figures show that British men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. Self-harming as a result of depression and low self-esteem currently affects 400 per 100,000 people in the UK, the highest rate in Europe. Only 1 in every 10 prisoners held in this country’s jails is completely free from a mental disorder. Indeed mental illness, and the discrimination and stigma that accompanies it, can ruin a person’s physical health, employment prospects, relationships and family life. It is estimated that a third of British families have at least one member with a mental health condition, and mental health issues are responsible for half of absenteeism cases in the UK workforce. Yet the National Health Service in the United Kingdom is believed to spend only 13% of its total health service expenditure on treating or aiding patients with mental health matters, according to its own NHS Choices news portal.


(c) The Lancet Student/NHS

People with mental illnesses can and do face much stigma. Whether it may be playground taunts aimed at a dyslexic child who struggles to read aloud in class, or the man with Asperger’s syndrome who is dismissed from his job for being considered ‘weird’ by his co-workers, discrimination can only further complicate a life already made difficult by experiencing mental illness. Slasher/horror movies like Silence of the Lambs, give viewers a very incorrect idea that people with mental health issues are all dangerous knife-wielding maniacs. A lot of this stigma comes from ignorance. A lack of understanding of mental health conditions means people are written off as ‘stupid’, ‘psycho’, ‘messed-in-the-head’ or ‘slow’. Unfortunately, mud sticks and the labels are near impossible to shake off.

 Rethink, is the operating name and a public awareness initiative of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, based in London. Despite the charity’s name, Rethink deals with general mental health and in particular has the motivation to challenge discrimination and increase awareness around mental health issues. Rethink also act as an outreach service for people with mental health issues themselves, enabling them to have a better quality or more independent standard of life.

 It began forty years ago, when a man named John Pringle penned a letter to the Times newspaper, which was duly published by its editor. The letter, dated May 9th 1970 is reproduced in part below:

 “The word “schizophrenia” is flung about today with flip facility, bobbing up in films, television scripts, literary criticism, even political articles, mostly as some sort of modish synonym for indecisiveness.  But no one who has seen the acute medical condition would ever want to use it except in its correct context.

Schizophrenia is a fragmentation or disintegration of the ego, that central “I” or “me” which we all take for granted, unaware of the delicate balance of the elements inside us.  According to the severity of the attack, the effects may range from mild disassociation of personality to a total withdrawal from human contact.  Virtually nothing is established about its aetiology or its genetic, environmental or other predisposing factors, so no means exist for either prevention or permanent cure. It may strike at any age or in any walk of life, but there is a distressingly high incidence among young adults, including those of beyond average intelligence.  The symptoms may shade into those of many other conditions so diagnosis can be difficult.

My son succumbed to an alleged “depression of adolescence”.  In his second year at Oxbridge, where he had gone with a major open scholarship.  He began cutting lectures and tutorials, shutting himself off in his rooms, and avoiding his friends.  It did not occur to the college authorities that this behaviour could be due to anything other than idleness.  They neither sent him to a doctor nor told us, the parents, but first took away his scholarship – then as that had no effect, sent him down – with 24 hours’ notice to us.  They admitted – afterwards – that suicide notes had been found.

A family suddenly faced with this situation has, in my experience, two problems, and it is hard to say which is worst.  The first is how best to cope with this strange, new member of the household whose moods alternate impossibly between sullen lying on his bed in the dark to wild fits of aggression, with social manners regressed to an almost animal level.  The second problem is how to penetrate the obfuscating fog of hospital vagueness and evasiveness to obtain intelligible guidance on the first set of problems.

It is understandable that psychiatrists are chary of affixing a dreaded label too quickly, and in fact it was more than two years, after a round of several hospitals and a disastrous second attempt at Oxbridge, before a positive diagnosis of schizophrenia was made in my son’s case.  But looking back, were those long months in which we could get no practical sense out of anybody, really necessary?

On almost any specific point on which advice was desperately needed – should he be persuaded to get up, dress, keep himself clean, encouraged to work or study, or just be left alone, which course is best for him? – we grew used to receiving from the doctors’ weary platitudes about showing “patience” or, from the hospital “welfare” side, surprised counter-questions – “Didn’t you ask the doctor that?”  Failures in co-ordination and communication, seem to hang about the administrative management of schizophrenia almost like a grim parody of the condition itself.

A personal experience of this kind is inevitably subjectively coloured, but it has persuaded me to look into other cases with which I have no emotional link, and into the general question, and my conclusions are disturbing, particularly about the community provision for the victims of the condition.

Some schizophrenics make a partial recovery.  Some stay in hospital for keeps.  But thousands more in Britain (the statistics are unreliable) level off like my son at a low level of adaptation, physically fit and normal-looking to a casual outsider, but without application or anything that can be called will-power, and finding most inter-personal relations almost impossibly difficult.  Drugs exist which palliate the grosser behavioural disturbances.  They make life more tolerable for the sufferer and those around him, but it is hard to hit on a dosage which will not produce a somnolence as inhibiting to normal living as the excess emotion the drugs are designed to suppress or mask.  Cases vary, but the very success of the drugs may only make it harder for the outside world to understand that behind the resulting apparent and outward normality the mental fragmentation is still there….

The so-called halfway house set up by a wealthy county close to London is run on strict disciplinarian lines.  New arrivals have it rubbed into them that their first duty is to get a job and get out.  Use of the premises is forbidden during the day, almost as though intended to make the inmates feel rejected and walk the streets aimlessly, a favourite schizophrenic way of passing the time.

Pressure on schizophrenics to obtain occupation may be right for their own sakes and to prevent deterioration, but hectoring is counter-productive and the ambience which brings out their best is more that of an oversized family than an institution.  For this reason the most successful halfway houses are those set up by such admirable voluntary bodies as the Richmond Fellowship whose staff must by now have as much experience of schizophrenic rehabilitation as anyone in the country.  But there are tragically few of them.

When all is said and done a hard core will remain, possibly running well into five figures for the United Kingdom, who will never be capable of fending completely for themselves.  No social provision exists for them, so their future is bleak.  As parents die off and other relatives find it impossible to cope, the inevitable trend is for them to drift downwards to the welfare state’s bottomest sump. “

It was this factual and heartfelt letter on the state of Britain’s schizophrenics and the rampant discrimination and hatred displayed for them in general society that spurned Pringle to set up the NSF, which in turn conceived Rethink.

John Pringle’s brave letter, written at a time when mental illness was a hushed-up taboo spoken about behind closed doors, where sufferers were pitied or pilloried in equal measure, helped bring about a new way of looking at mental health. This turnaround in thinking meant that those affected were supported and also supported each other mutually. Today, the Rethink charity supports almost 60,000 people with varying mental health situations to get through their crises and afford them a better degree of life. Just as importantly, Rethink’s users know they always have a voice and there is someone to turn to.

Rethink are the United Kingdom’s largest voluntary provider of mental health services. They offer:

  • Free factsheets and webpages for everyone affected by mental health issues, including information and support materials for families, carers and mental health professionals.
  • Give advice to the media and government agencies on mental health policies and improving mental health services.
  • 150 support groups covering the range of the mental health spectrum.
  • Online and phone-based support and advice line
  • Influential and intense campaigning to address prejudice and stigma around mental health and to change government policy and societal viewpoints.
  • Membership facilities – anyone can join
  • Fundraising – like most charities, Rethink depends on the generosity of supporters to continue their work.

Rethink also actively engage in research around mental health conditions, in order to further understand the causes and cures. They work with scientists, producing evidence to develop mental health policies that will actually benefit people with mental health conditions and ensure that their findings make an impact upon decision-makers.

Rethink have been instrumental in campaigning against outdated legislation that forbids anyone with a mental health issue from becoming a company director or be involved in politics, or even participate in jury service. A new Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill is currently working its way through Parliament. People are encouraged to write to their Member of Parliament to support the bill becoming law and therefore enabling those with mental health issues to participate fully in society.

Their ’20 Years Too Soon’ campaign aims to end the situation where sufferers live on average two decades less than non-sufferers due to often preventable physical diseases. This includes a ‘Physical Health Charter’ – a necessity to improve the physical health of sufferers who may have difficulty with matters such as exercise and healthy eating.

Rethink also push for agenda changes within British politics to bring mental health issues and services to the forefront of Government health policy through grassroots campaigning and face-to-face dialogue with MPs. Their ‘no decision about me without me’ campaign gives people with mental health conditions more say in how they are diagnosed, helped and treated – at the same level as other users of health services. The proposals forwarded by Rethink are now being considered by the UK Department of Health.

Along with many other mental health charities in the UK, Rethink are playing a very important and multi-dimensional role in assisting people with mental health issues, supporting their voices and opinions and combatting stigma and ignorance. But it will be a long struggle before there is no more intolerance and those with mental health issues are accepted instead of feared.

(c) Media Week / Haymarket Brand Media


Telephone: 0300 5000 927 or

SOURCES: Metro Newspaper, Mental Health Foundation, NHS Choices, Schizophrenic Fellowship, The Times Newspaper.